Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 30th September, 2019
This new production of Patrick Hamilton’s classic thriller impresses from the start with an imposing set designed by William Dudley. The perspective is so forced the ceiling looms large over proceedings and the sense of claustrophobia is almost palpable. The box set is augmented by judicious use of gauzes so we can see who is eavesdropping outside the room or going up and down the staircases, and there are video projections, also by Dudley, that give us a view into the uppermost room and, more importantly, the mindset of our heroine, Bella.
Written in 1939, the play has given its name to a form of systematic psychological abuse, and Hamilton gives us a textbook example here as Jack Manningham uses every trick in the book to send his wife around the twist. From the off, Bella (Charlotte Emmerson) is tightly wound and Jack plays her like a fiddle. James Wiley is perfectly villainous as the domineering, manipulative husband, while Emmerson, increasingly unhinged, quickly gains our sympathy and keeps it.
There is strong supporting character work from Mary Chater as Elizabeth, and Georgia Clarke-Day as Nancy, two maids of the household, contrasting nicely with each other; but the piece centres around a star turn from the mighty Martin Shaw as Rough, a detective with an Oirish accent. Shaw’s Rough is humorous and yet authoritative, a charmer who takes control – a Professional, if you will!
Mic Pool’s sound design adds eeriness and the all-important lighting, by Chris Davey, creates a suitably murky atmosphere for the dastardly goings-on. Director Lucy Bailey wrings suspense out of moments of silence, and the action builds to a rather lurid climax in which we see the villain’s ultimate fate.
Even if you’ve seen the play the before, this high-quality production shows there is still plenty of mileage in the material. Gripping, amusing and thrilling, Gaslight deserves a glowing review!